The Place of God: Bringing Hope to the Lower Yukon
By David Boyd
Oct. 21, 2012
Covering some 663,000 square miles, Alaska is easily the largest state in the U.S. Majestic mountains abound, along with barren tundra, beautiful stands of timber, and vast stretches of rivers and streams, dotted by fishing villages.
Here, my eyes were once again opened to the call of God and the need to take the gospel to the unreached people of the world. I had no idea that many of them live within the borders of our own United States. I thought surely by now every person had experienced an opportunity to hear the gospel preached on TV, on radio, or in churches. But not so.
My friend Dennis Ackley (a former Royal Ranger) and 14-year-old James Reynolds joined me on a ministry journey to Alaska.
Our journey began with the long flight from the lower 48 states to the city of Anchorage. From there we made our way west on a small, twin-engine plane, flying over seemingly endless lands covered by water, tundra, silt and mud. Following the rivers and tributaries, we made our way to Emmonak, a village of around 750 people situated on the Yukon River Delta near the western coast of Alaska.
As we disembarked and stood on the landing strip, news of our arrival spread. Two four-wheelers came to take us into the village. Immediately we could see how different life was here. Every home stood on stilts — one of many signs that this silty delta land floods regularly when it isn’t frozen solid.
Drying hides, empty gas cans, ancient snow machines, and snowshoes were in abundance. What was missing? Cars, trucks and other vehicles. The closest road ended 500 miles short of this remote place. Supplies could be ordered at any time but would only be delivered once or twice a year — when the barges could make it this far upriver, and when the occasional plane had a bit of spare room to bring in a box or two.
Powdered milk, rice, beans and powdered eggs are the staple foods here. Add the occasional bear, moose, seal or fish, and this description forms the normal living conditions for the locals.
I was proud to see an Assemblies of God church sitting in the center of the village, pastored by a vibrant young couple. Austin and Jennifer Jones live above the small Yukon Delta Assembly of God, bringing the life of the gospel to this village and impacting many others.
From Emmonak, our journey to Camp Agaiutim Nune, meaning “Place of God,” continued in a converted tender boat, previously used in catching and hauling fish. Donated to the camp and named “Hallelujah Boat,” it took us almost 17 miles upriver and into 400 square miles of tundra.
The camp was built 4 feet higher than the surrounding delta. At this higher elevation, it would be safe from the yearly spring breakup flooding.
The land was donated to serve as a place where Yup’ik Eskimo children and teenagers of the surrounding villages could find Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The camp stands vacant 10 months of the year, evidenced by the tracks left by moose, wolves, bears and other wildlife that make this place home. However, during the summer people from all over the United States have sensed the call to come and create this special place for youth to gather.
It starts with the advance team, arriving two weeks ahead of time, when the winds are still freezing cold, rain falls heavily, and mosquitoes are anxious to fill their empty bellies.
But these teams brave it all to set up dozens of sleeping tents, dining tents, circus tents, shower houses and bathrooms. One crew of Royal Rangers from the Southern New England Ministry Network of the AG has come for the past six years!
The three of us in my ministry group arrived a day before the kids.
When the campers arrived, they came by boat. They weren’t used to being around a lot of people, many having lived in remote, tiny villages.
But they were beautiful children, with silky black hair, almond-shaped eyes, and round, tawny faces. Surprisingly quiet, they usually spoke with whispers, nods, winks and subtle movements that took us awhile to understand. But what a beautiful sight it was, as those children found Jesus and learned to love Him as Savior. Many of them had never heard the stories of Jesus before — not even once.
That’s why this place exists. That’s why U.S. missionaries Jim and Linda Schulz carved this spot out on this delta 17 years ago — so those who had never heard the story of Christ would have the opportunity to do so. That’s why U.S. missionaries Terry and Danean Hull came to assist the second year … and have stayed ever since.
Some Yup’ik kids had suffered much in their short lives. Alcoholism and abuse escalates during the long winters, when the sun shines for only a couple of hours a day. They were in desperate need of healthy relationships and healing.
And that healing came! God moved upon these precious children. The kids learned to join God’s team and become Christians. They learned to prepare themselves to fight off the enemy of their souls. They vowed to live for God the rest of their lives.
Men and women had come from all over the United States, including three Assemblies of God colleges (Trinity Bible College in Ellendale, N.D.; Zion Bible College in Haverhill, Mass.; and Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.). Katrina Frazee had put together a great Chi Alpha team, and several church teams also came. These leaders did a tremendous job of becoming “Jesus in the flesh” to these kids.
The services were powerful. The presence of God fell, often in silence. These quiet people found Jesus and loved to praise Him with whispers on their lips. Better yet, their praise was accompanied by a warm hug from a godly leader who had challenged them to dig in with God.
The children weren’t always quiet, however. Coming from competing clans, the boys especially would find reason to challenge one another throughout the day. Leaders constantly scrambled to remind the kids of the gospel lessons they had learned.
It was light for 23 hours of the day and dusk for only one. The kids only liked to sleep when it was dusk or darker, so for many leaders it was 23 hours on duty, one hour off.
And it was cold! Despite the camp being held during the warmest time of the year for that part of Alaska, it was frigid at times. Mosquitoes were numerous.
The camp itself was one of the greatest examples of ingenuity I had ever seen. To obtain a carload of lumber, it had to be ordered a year in advance, because it would be shipped on barges after the winter ice melts away. But lumber was provided in another way.
While the delta and tundra provided very few trees, the river teemed with them. Many fallen trees float down the nearly 2,000-mile-long river. As the logs reach the camp (after a yearlong journey), they’re pulled out of the river, dried, cut, and used to build just about everything you can imagine.
Recently, a sawmill was donated to the camp by Calvary Christian Church (AG) in Lynnfield, Mass., from which the camp is able to cut much of its own lumber. A diesel generator was also donated by Glad Tidings Church (AG) in Muncie, Ind. At the camp, every tool, every piece of lumber, and every piece of metal has great value.
Jim and Linda Schulz have invested much of their lives into this camp, and into the numerous villages across Alaska that have not yet heard a gospel witness. They join many other pastors and missionaries in striving to reach the people.
They dream of a permanent building on the camp’s site as a place of worship. This dream will soon become a reality, thanks to Coins for Kids, the National Girls Ministries missions endeavor partnering with BGMC. Girls across the U.S. have vowed to raise over $200,000 to build it.*
When the camp concluded and the children departed, I couldn’t help but feel both a sadness and a sense of godly pride.
Each one of these children now has hope. They now know a God who loves them and who answers their prayers. Our hugs were replaced by the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
I know they will never be the same. I know I won’t.
DAVID BOYD is national BGMC director for the Assemblies of God.
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